One of the great flaws with democracy is that in chasing votes, mainstream political parties inevitably propagate the dual myths of “The People” and their phantasmagoric partner “Will.”
When you hear politicians talk about “The People” it’s easy to imagine them (us?) as a quasi-mystical, forever intrigued, Greek Chorus – wandering about the place conjuring up exciting ideas. In reality of course “The People” are more likely best represented by ‘Dave and Jude’ down the pub, who while away their lives sharing cat pictures on Facebook.
Thatcher famously said that there was “no such thing as society” – and was rightly condemned for it. If she’d said there was no such thing as “The People,” I for one might well have been inclined to agree with her. Individuals may share beliefs, languages and identities with others in the same geographical proximity, but to suggest that there is some homogenous group of 65 million diverse homo-sapiens, with a divine collective “will” that can be served – to the happiness and benefit of all – is a pile of bollocks, heaped on bollocks, atop bollock peak. With an enormous bollock topping.
The Brexit referendum took the toxic combination of “the People” and their “Will” and mixed it, in much the same way that oxygen mixes with aluminium powder. Now the aluminium oxide has spoken, the kitchen has burnt down, and those of us who said it would happen are expected to ‘accept it’ and ‘move on’ and help clear up the mess.
Despite what Mr Farage might tell you, “The people” who did vote for Brexit did so for a Bassett’s Allsorts of reasons, and blue passports were way down that list. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation did research into this last year and found that groups vulnerable to poverty, or those who felt left behind or with low educational achievements were most likely to have voted Brexit. I for one have enormous sympathy with those who feel forgotten, but their woes have little to do with the EU and a lot more to do with the failings of successive British governments in Westminster. Leaving Europe won’t improve their life chances and opportunities – if anything it might make them a lot worse.
There were other groups of course. The Labour Lexiteers (very much The Angus Steakhouse Folk Band of the Leave scene) and that big mad bunch of Faragists who see Brexit as a vote for nostalgia; a whimsical return to the Britain of the good old days, when you could beat your children with a belt, fly spitfires, shoot Germans and make ‘Paki’ jokes on TV without being labelled a racist.
No ‘one group’ won the referendum by themselves with a single collective ‘will’ for the simple reason that that ‘will’ is a myth and many didn’t even know what they were voting for. The vote to leave the EU was more a perfect storm of bad moods coming together than rational collective political thought.
So how to stop it?
The good news is that many of the methods that were deployed to lead us into the current Brexit nightmare can be used to fight back against it. Chief among those is the referendum option. To misquote Billy Joel: “we might all know the people thing is only make believe but now it’s time to fight the fire with fire.”
As Brexshitshambles continues, it seems that “the People” (yes them – see what I’m doing here) are keen to have one. And remember folks “the People” are what it is all about. In the last week alone, we have seen a new petition calling for a referendum on the outcome of negotiations reach over the 100k threshold.
Meanwhile, research published by GQRR demonstrates that just over 50 percent of voters (a majority, get over it) back a second referendum with that figure rising to 70 percent among Labour voters. Corbyn might wish to put Brexit on the back-burner, but for how much longer can he ignore his own support base?
(Flickr / Duncan Hull)
Some argue that a second referendum is too risky and that we should simply attempt to stop Brexit through the parliamentary process. That, I am afraid, is a fantasy. It would lead to decades of accusations of betrayal, and anyway, despite the majority of MPs broadly disagreeing with Brexit, both big parties have committed to it. Labour picked up votes in the last election specifically from the Remainers – but that doesn’t seem to have registered with the pro-Brexit Jezza either, who insists it’s all his own fabulous success story, as he helps push the country back to 1972.
Referendums might be the undemocratic tools of demagogues and tyrants, yes, but there is really no alternative. The final battle must be fought. The dragon must be slain.
While May and Corbyn might oppose a second referendum, voices outside of Westminster, including Sadiq Khan, have started to raise the possibility and the consensus is building. Consensus is one thing, momentum is another. What is required now is for some of the key Remain players at Westminster to step up and show a bit of backbone. Remain needs trouble-makers, headline grabbers and MPs willing to desert their parties. May and Corbyn need to be hit where it hurts. Remain needs not one Carswell but several, from across the political divide. There is no need to set up a new party or to defect to the Lib Dems; given the current fine balance in the Commons, just one Remain MP resigning the whip from either major party and declaring themselves a Remain Independent would fire a warning shot across the bows. Two would focus the mind. Five would send shockwaves through the “Brexit establishment.”
Of course, there is a real risk that having got a second referendum, “the people” will speak again and vote once again to leave the EU. If that is the case, then so be it. I think, at that point, the pro-EU camp would be obliged to lay down the banners and withdraw from the battlefield. But one thing is certain, if you care about this country and its future, that final battle must be fought.🔷
(This opinion piece was first published in The PinPrick)